Mourners filled Seattle’s St. James Cathedral Monday for the funeral of former Washington governor Albert D. Rosellini. A son of Italian immigrants, he was the oldest living former governor in America.
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke gave a eulogy for the former governor, who died Oct. 10 at the age of 101.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and former Democratic governor Booth Gardner were among the hundreds of attendees.
Rosellini was elected in 1956 and re-elected in 1960.
His tenure in office was defined by efforts to reform state prisons and modernize mental health institutions while shepherding through the creation of the 520 floating bridge that now bears his name.
Albert Dean Rosellini was born in Tacoma in 1910 and developed his characteristic work ethic as a child. He remembered selling newspapers at age 9 while also doing odd jobs for a woman for a penny a day.
He was a boxer in college and took three jobs to put himself through school, working as a butcher in Pike Place Market, working on an Alaska steamer and law clerking.
In 1927, his father and a friend were arrested and charged with trying to smuggle drugs out of Mexico, according to a 1997 biography by Payton Smith. Gov. Rosellini reflected to Smith years later that his father’s arrest in the home, the sensational headlines and visiting his father in federal prison made an indelible impression on him and motivated him to enter law school.
King County Prosecutor Warren G. Magnuson hired Rosellini out of law school.
Rosellini met his wife, Ethel, when he was a young attorney defending a literary agent on trial for grand larceny. They got married in 1937, and were married for 64 years. She died in 2002.
In 1938, when he was 28, Rosellini was elected to the state Senate and served for 18 years. He championed the creation of the medical and dental schools at the University of Washington, but said he lost his seat in 1952 in part because of his Italian and Catholic heritage.
“Friends said, you are well qualified but with your name and your religion you’ll never make it in the state,” he recalled 10 years ago.
Rosellini went on to serve as governor from 1957 until 1965 before losing to Republican Gov. Dan Evans.
In 1972, Rosellini made another run for governor, winning the Democratic primary but losing to Evans in the general election. Rosellini believed ethnic and religious prejudice defeated him again, as bumper stickers at the time said: “Does Washington Really Need Another Godfather.” The Oscar-winning film “The Godfather” was released the same year.
Rosellini was friends with Seattle strip club magnate Frank Colacurcio Sr. and represented the fellow Italian-American during his early years as an attorney.
After leaving politics, Rosellini went on to become a mentor for Democrats in the state, providing U.S. Sen. Patty Murray her first endorsement, helping fundraise for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and mentoring Gov. Gary Locke. He also bonded with Evans, his longtime political foe.